Chapter 3 Summary

The Coyote and the Chicken

The Border Patrol and the Mexican consular corps often work together because each has a “deep distrust of its own government” and despise Coyotes, the human smugglers who regularly traffic across the border. Although Mexican soldiers are paid to patrol the Mexico side of the border, they undoubtedly are paid more by the Coyotes and rarely are seen. For a time, the Mexican government offered survival kits, including condoms, to all walkers, but the American government stopped the program.

Fifteen hundred walkers a day leave Mexico near the Devil’s Highway. Newspapers later report that a group of walkers called the Wellton 26 crossed the border somewhere between Yuma and Nogales. There is little there to keep any walkers from crossing—perhaps a “drooping bit of wire fence” or a small sign advising that crossing the border into America is prohibited.

The process is similar for all who illegally enter the United States. The smugglers tell the walkers that it is a simple “day’s walk to their pickup point.” Often that is the case, and once they cross, the illegals go to places like North Carolina (to make cigarettes) or Chicago.

Men like Don Moi do business in Altar, where busloads or vanloads of walkers are randomly dispersed. Several of the Wellton 26 stopped in Altar, where their disastrous journey began. (Now, thanks to Operation Gatekeeper, a border fence extends into the ocean in the west and stops somewhere in the wastelands of deserts and mountains. Suburbs have “sprung up” in “regions formerly notorious as a human hunting ground.” The walkers who once crossed here now have to move east and have two thousand miles of desert from which to choose.)  

Altar is the largest center for illegal immigration along the entire border. Coyotes are known in Altar as "polleros"—chicken wranglers. These criminals are so powerfully entrenched that any walkers without a pollero must pay a fee just to enter the desert.

The Yuma 14 (the 14 members of the Wellton 25 who died) were lured into the desert and then abandoned by an operation run by Luis Cercas. His brother Daniel, known as “Chespiro,” never meets them but takes their money and gives the orders that determine their travel route.

El Negro is part of the Cercas family and guide for the Yuma 14. It is an intimidating chain of command, from Chespiro down to soldiers, drivers, and guides (Coyotes). The guides are as expendable as the walkers as there are plenty of fools to do the job. Locals are paid to assist the process.

Polleros gather their pollos, and vans arrive to pick them up. Anyone who does not move quickly enough is left behind to die; the Coyotes are “stone-cold pragmatists.” After their arrival in Phoenix, the walkers are shipped all over the country as needed, again under the supervision of the Cercas family. Don Mio is a Cercas relative.